You've been longing for the success you're experiencing today through Colour Photo. How does it feel?
It has brought happy tears. After the release, director Sandeep Raj and I met. We were speechless, and hugged each other out of joy. We didn't know any other way to deal with this success.
Let's go back a little. When did you first decide to pursue acting as a career?
I think I always had a vague interest, but I realised it only when in college. That's when I explored my interest in acting. I used to actively perform various one-act plays, mimes and skits. Teja Kakumanu (supporting actor in Baahubali) was my guiding light during my initial days.
How did your acting career begin in the digital space?
When I graduated, I moved to Hyderabad to pursue acting full time. I auditioned for some films, but nothing worked out. So, I decided to make some videos on my own and post them on YouTube. ChaiBisket too had started around the same time as an online media house. After seeing my work, Sandeep approached me to collaborate with ChaiBisket. We then started doing sketches, videos, short films and web series. Fortunately, they were received very well.
Later, we began to produce genre-based content that offered better scope for character-driven plots. Seeing my body of work in the digital space, I was offered supporting roles in films. This stint also gave me a breather to choose better roles in films.
Over all these years in the digital space, did you ever feel skeptical about making it to mainstream films?
My collaboration with ChaiBisket happened early on, and that kept me confident. I always had that hope that I would make it to the big screen some day. So, I never thought of giving up. I think the people you choose to be around with also matter a lot. My friends, the team from ChaiBisket and others in my circle were very optimistic and encouraging. They believed in me.
Did your stint in the digital space better you as a performer?
I think so. Earlier, I used to be nervous, and felt my performances weren't great. Slowly, I improved by fixing my flaws and overcoming the fear. By the time I was getting cast in supporting roles, I had finished around 100 short films for ChaiBisket. That prepared me for feature films.
What is your acting process like?
I was guided by my 'guru' Teja anna. He advised me to keep my performance natural and less dramatic, unless required. I draw my inspiration from life. I've always tried to tap and leverage my own emotions and memories. I imagine how I would have reacted in real life to the situations in my films. Then, there's the experience that comes with years of work.
You have a husky voice. Did you ever try to be a voice actor?
I've dubbed for the antagonist's character in the web series 703 produced by ChaiBisket. I was once advised by a senior sound engineer to focus on one thing in my career, which is acting, and excel in that. I felt he had a valid point, and focussed on acting.
All the supporting roles you've performed are noteworthy. Were you conscious about role selection?
Yes, I was very conscious of what I was stepping into. I have rejected quite a few offers, because I felt they wouldn't add value. Some of the roles I was offered weren't substantial enough to make it to the final cut. I avoided such roles and chose interesting ones that would add value to a film and also be remembered.
What about Colour Photo helped you decide it would be your debut film as protagonist?
The main reason is the cast and crew. Sandeep has been my dear friend for so many years and the entire direction crew, the editor, the DOP, the executive producer… all are from ChaiBisket. So, working with a team of friends was one of the main reasons for taking it up. The narration by Sandeep was extraordinary. The story is layered with plot points and subtexts. I found that intriguing, and believed this was a film the audience would connect to. Also, I loved Jaya Krishna's character and was desperate to play him.
Did you look at supporting roles as a stepping stone to finally become a protagonist?
I don't see performances from that perspective. I only seek to be recognised as a good actor, irrespective of the size of the role. So, it's not like I will not be doing character roles from here on.
Can we expect more actors from the digital space to enter the film industry? What would be your advice to them?
Yes, we can. I wish those who are talented and hardworking get big opportunities. It felt surreal to drive through the lanes of Krishna Nagar to see my film's posters all over. It reminded me of my struggling days. That feeling of achievement is an unmatchable 'kick' in life. I wish everyone who's working their way up gets to taste that one day.
You've received immense praise for your performance in Colour Photo. Let's break down a few scenes. Firstly, in the song 'Tharagathi Pathos', Krishna masks his face while walking through the entire college. How did you emote melancholy when a part of your face was covered?
I actually wept during that song. I found it very challenging to emote such intense feelings through a masked face, where only my eyes were visible. I didn't use any specific strategy. I wandered around the college and I remember sinking into that character eventually. Later, when I realised that I had all the emotions I wanted within me, I gave my shot.
The conversation in the climax between Krishna and Deepti on the beach — how did you prep for that?
Unlike normal days, that day, there was a lot of crowd at the beach to meet Sunil anna (Inspector Rama Raju). It was very noisy. I became nervous seeing the crowd, because it's an important scene and I didn't want to get distracted. I wanted it to be pitch perfect and we actually raced through the shoot. We wrapped it in one take, finishing the whole process in an hour.
Were you disappointed that Colour Photo released directly on OTT?
Of course, there is disappointment because the collective cinematic experience is a different deal altogether. Nonetheless, I am happy that a wide audience has watched the film and likes it.
What are your favourite scenes in the film?
My favourite is the phone scene between Krishna and Deepti. It was improvised by Sandeep on the set by adding the word "over". I enjoyed playing that scene a lot.
And the pre-interval scene where Deepti (Chandini Chaudary) confronts Krishna and confesses her love — that scene too. The music (Bhairava) and symbolism in the scene with the tube light and Radha Krishna paintings in the backdrop (Kranti is the art director)… it was all very well written.
What are your future projects?
I've finished another feature film post-lockdown. It is directed by Meher Tej, who previously directed my short film Nandan — A Psycho Thriller. This film will be released shortly. I've also signed up for a few roles in some really good upcoming projects.